Christianity's global centre has shifted, conference hears

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The Global Christian Forum's (GCF) fourth global gathering kicked off in Accra, Ghana, with an emphasis on major demographic shifts in global Christianity. With the theme That the world may know, the event held from April 16 to 20 brought together 240 participants from 60 different countries representing all major Christian traditions.

As one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Gina Zurlo, an American sociologist and scholar of history of mission and world Christianity, highlighted Africa as the region emerging as a focal point. Reviewing demographic shifts over the past 150 years, she pointed to the surprising statistic that today 44% of Protestant Christians reside in Africa.

According to the latest survey of global Christianity, the gradual but significant shift has become evident when looking at the past century. In 1900, a vast majority of 82% of Christians hailed from the Global North, in start contrast with the remaining 18% from the Global South, which is also referred to as the Majority World, including populous regions such as Asia, Africa and Latin America. Fast forward to the present, and the demographics have dramatically reversed, with only 33% of Christians in the Global North and 67% in the Global South.

Zurlo, who serves as co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has focused her research on the demography of religion, World Christianity, sociology of religion, and women's studies. She highlighted that recent research revealed that historically and in the present, women have played a significant role in this demographic shift, comprising a majority of believers overall and actively participating in religious activities.

Current projections point to further shifts in the same direction and suggest that by 2050, an overwhelming majority of 77% of Christians will hail from the Global South. These numbers include all streams of Christianity, from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestants, evangelicals, Pentecostals, and charismatics.

"Evangelicals emerged in the 18th century as a renewal movement within Protestantism shifting to the Global South over the 20th century. And even though the United States is the country with the most evangelicals in the world, four fifths of all evangelicals worldwide are people of colour," Zurlo observed.

The Pentecostal Charismatic Movement, originating in the early 20th century, has become a hallmark of Global South faith, encompassing diverse manifestations within classical Pentecostalism, the Catholic Charismatic Movement, and other charismatic movements.

Zurlo noted that the trends offer some insights to where the next centre of Christianity will be located. "Wherever Christianity spread, and in the 20th century, the Pentecostal charismatic movement spread with it, it appears that the future of global Christianity seems to be Pentecostal."

As Christianity's geographical distribution continues to change, Africa and Asia witness an increase in Christian populations, while Europe and North America experience declines. Within these regions, the proliferation of Pentecostal and Charismatic movements adds to the religious diversity.

Zurlo emphasized the importance for Christian leaders to be aware of these statistics and developments, as they will help them to grasp the changing global landscape within Christianity.

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